SOFT SPOT FOR CHEVRE

Phil and I influence each other’s gastronomic likes and dislikes.  Before we met I wasn’t fond of sushi,  couldn’t understand all the passion for guacamole, and twisted my nose at maple syrup.  Now I’m addicted to sushi (with no intentions of rehab), I’ll eat guacamole any time,  and I can’t imagine a blueberry pancake without the heavenly nectar drizzled on top.

Phil, on the other hand,  wouldn’t touch a raw tomato, felt queasy around foie gras, and didn’t like the smell of goat cheese.  Those days are over, which is  great, because I didn’t want to skip this pasta, with creamy goat cheese enveloping cremini mushrooms and arugula.   You can use any pasta shape you prefer,  but pick a mild goat cheese that will quickly melt in the hot pasta.

CREMINI MUSHROOM PASTA WITH GOAT CHEESE AND ARUGULA
(adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook)
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1 pound spaghetti (or another shape of your choice)
2 pounds cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs butter
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and black pepper to taste
2-3 cups baby arugula
3/4 pound soft goat cheese, crumbled (room temperature)
freshly minced parsley

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the pasta until al dente.  Heat the olive oil and butter on a non-stick skillet, add the garlic and saute for a couple of minutes.  Add the sliced mushrooms, season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook the mushrooms until they release liquid and it almost completely evaporates.  Reserve, keeping warm.

When the pasta’s ready, reserve about 1/2 cup of the cooking water, drain the pasta, return to the pot and add the cremini mushrooms, arugula, goat cheese, and parsley. Gently toss everything to wilt the arugula, add some of the pasta water to get a smooth consistency, adjust the seasoning, and serve.

(makes 4 substantial servings)

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: If you don’t like goat cheese, then this pasta is not for you, just skip it, because the “flavor of the barnyard”  (as Phil calls it) is pronounced in the sauce.  The original recipe called for regular arugula, but instead I used baby arugula because the sharpness of the goat cheese pairs better with a milder green.  If you want to tone it down even more then use baby spinach, or even Swiss chard, although you’ll have to saute it first.  My other adaptation was to skip the 1/2 cup of olive oil that was intended as its  “finishing touch.”  Despite my love for olive oil, I’d never add 955 calories of fat to a pasta that’s perfectly fine without it.  I am not a fat-o-phobe, but have my limits.

We like to go vegetarian one day during the week, and this is a great option if you’re trying to skip meat whether occasionally or permanently.   It’s delicious!

Note to self: to make it even faster, saute the mushrooms in advance, and  re-warm them right before adding to the pasta.

ONE YEAR AGO: Seared Tuna is my Private Idaho

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STIR-FRIED CHICKEN WITH CREAMED CORN

This recipe joins ingredients I’d never imagined together.  Think about a Chinese stir-fry with an American Southwestern flair.  Canned creamed corn might send me running in the opposite direction, but this recipe was described as “brilliant,” and with Mark Bittman backing it,  I took the  gastronomic leap of faith and went for it. What a great stir-fry concoction it is!   It’ll be a regular in my nightly repertoire from now on.  The combination of creamed corn and fresh corn kernels is the secret to success.

STIR-FRIED CHICKEN WITH CREAMED CORN
(from The Essential New York Times Cookbook)

1 pound boneless chicken breasts (or thighs), cut into small chunks
2 Tbs soy sauce
1 tsp Japanese sesame oil
1 Tbs white wine (or rice wine)
salt to taste
2 Tbs vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)
1 Tbs minced garlic
1 Tbs minced ginger
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 can of creamed corn (15 oz)
1 cup corn kernels (I used roasted kernels, frozen)
chopped fresh cilantro

Mix the chicken with the soy sauce, the sesame oil, and wine. Season very lightly with salt. Keep at room temperature for 10 to 30 minutes (you can also do this step several hours in advance).

Heat the vegetable oil on a large skillet, when very hot, drain the chicken and add to the pan, without crowding (if necessary, do it in two batches). Let it cook undisturbed until the pieces get a nice golden brown color, then flip them around to cook the other side. The whole process will take less than 5 minutes, if your oil was hot enough to begin with. Turn the heat down, add the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes. Cook for a minute, add the creamed corn and corn kernels (no need to defrost if frozen). Cook stirring every once in a while until the dish is heated through, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro right before serving, preferably over white rice.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Most stir-fries finish with a liquid thickened by some type of starch – usually cornstarch or arrowroot.  In this recipe the creamed corn provides all the texture and substance you’ll need.  I made it, start to finish,   in less than 30 minutes on a weeknight, but in the future I might marinate the chicken early in the morning and leave it in the fridge the whole day.

In the Summer, when corn is at its peak, I’ll use fresh kernels, but this time I grabbed the excellent frozen kernels at Trader Joe’s.  The fact that they were roasted added even more flavor.  The colors and the taste were like Spring on the plate.  We are ready for it…  😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Potato, Cheddar, and Chive Torpedo (this definitely goes to our Hall of Fame of Breads)

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CORNMEAL ENGLISH MUFFINS

Or, as Dan Lepard described them, “traditional English muffins with a neat twist.” They have the exact same look of the regular English muffin, similar texture, but a slightly more complex taste due to the addition of cornmeal to the dough. Since they are leavened by commercial, fast acting yeast, you can have these tasty treats ready for brunch in less than 3 hours. Making bread first thing in the morning always makes me feel good, and gets the weekend started with a great vibe!

CORNMEAL ENGLISH MUFFINS
(detailed recipe found at The Guardian website)

The dough is made with soaked cornmeal, bread flour, yogurt, vinegar, and commercial yeast.

One important modification: I used only 350ml of water instead of the 425ml called for in the original recipe, after the advice of two friends (Celia and Joanna) who recently made these muffins and felt they did not hold their shape well if the full amount of water is added.

After three cycles of quick kneading, the dough rises undisturbed for an hour and a half, then is rolled 1/2 inch thick, and cut in circles. Initial cooking on a very hot griddle, 4 to 6 minutes per side, produces a beautifully golden crust on the surface…

They go into a 400F oven for 10 more minutes to make sure the crumb is fully set, and after patiently waiting for them to cool down, the baker might be lucky enough to hear her partner saying “can I make a little sandwich for you”?


I am submitting this post to Susan’s Yeastspotting….

ONE YEAR AGO: Cornish Hens for a Sunday Dinner

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NUMBER 50

We are about to wrap up our 6th month in Los Angeles, and we absolutely love this place! Work is challenging and stimulating, we made great new friends, and got an unexpected bonus with our move: here we can run hills, something virtually impossible in Oklahoma (zero hills within 250 miles in any direction). The nano-house is located midway through a big canyon so we can run a steep 2 mile hill all the way up to Mulholland Drive (yeah, that one 😉 ).

Today we completed our 50th run up and down the hill, I wish I could say it was a great one, but unfortunately I felt short of breath and tired from the moment I stepped out of the house. Some days are like that, gotta take them as they come. But, even a lousy run is worth it when you reach the top and your reward is the day starting, beautiful and peaceful down below.

The second reward was waiting for us at home: a batch of “Supernatural Brownies,” a very tasty recipe from Nick Malgieri, re-printed in Saveur a few years ago. Stay tuned! 😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Whole Wheat Bread

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ROASTED LEMON VINAIGRETTE

The rind of a lemon is exceptionally bitter, w...

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I had this recipe filed in my computer for 13 months.  All I can say is “better late than never.”  Please, make this dressing as soon as you can possibly gather the ingredients and spare half an hour of your time.   My friend Gretchen urged me to try it a long time ago,  but only the constant influx of Meyer lemons in our fridge set my wheels in motion. Consider making a double batch, as you will find many uses for this liquid gold: I drizzled over our salad, and next thing I knew, my grilled halibut was under its shiny coating too.

ROASTED LEMON VINAIGRETTE
(from Gretchen’s kitchen)

1 lemon (Meyer, if available)
1 tsp + 3 Tbs olive oil (divided)
1 clove garlic, unpeeled
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp honey
1/4 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash the lemon, cut it in half, remove the seeds with the tip of a knife. Rub the lemon halves and the garlic clove with 1 tsp of olive oil, place in a small baking dish and roast in a 400F oven for 25-30 minutes, until the lemon starts to get brown at the edges. Remove from the oven, and as soon as it’s cold enough to handle, squeeze the juice and the pulp in a small bowl.

Add the mustard, honey, salt, and pepper, and use a whisk to mix it all well. Remove any large bits of white pulp, if present. Add the remaining 3 Tbs. of olive oil, slowly at first, then drizzle it as you continue to whisk, forming an emulsion. Adjust the seasoning.

Serve over salads, steamed veggies, roasted veggies, grilled fish, chicken, or pork. Have fun with it, and…

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I cannot recommend this recipe strongly enough. It is simply perfect if you are into citric flavors. We usually make a big salad on Friday evenings, using any greens and other goodies left in the fridge. This dressing turned the “everything but the kitchen sink salad” into something special.  Next day, I used what was left in a farro concoction very similar to this one, except that I omitted the raw asparagus and added diced cucumber and fennel instead.  Farro and roasted lemon vinaigrette:  another example of a match made in heaven,  I hope you’ll give it a try.

ONE YEAR AGO: Torta di Zuchini

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SOPHIE GRIGSON’s PARMESAN CAKE

This year’s Super Bow was low-key for us.  We’ve been hard at work, so what we wanted on that quiet Sunday was to recharge our batteries and reload for  another busy week.  Since it was just the two of us, we kept it simple:  Phil made his killer guacamole, and I prepared a recipe from my newest acquisition, the mammoth  “Essential New York Times Cookbook.”   The way it’s going, our pickup truck may not hold all our belongings (cookbooks!) on the trip home.  I’ve bought more cooking literature than I can possibly use here, and this one will add considerable weight to our load!    😉

This savory cake resembles corn bread in its looks and texture, smells terrific while baking, and does not disappoint in taste either warm or at room temperature.  We had a couple of slices on Sunday, and enjoyed the rest for lunch in the Gonda-McDonald courtyard at UCLA, on the sunny patio outside our building.  In the 75 degree sun it was hard to believe that the rest of the country was battling snowstorms…

Is it Summer yet?

SOPHIE GRIGSON’S PARMESAN CAKE
(from The Essential New York Times Cookbook)

1 cup flour
1+1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 oz parmiggiano cheese, finely grated
1/4 cup semolina flour
freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
3/4 cup whole milk

Heat the oven to 375 F. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan with butter and reserve.  Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl, then add the grated cheese, semolina flour, and black pepper to your taste.   Mix well to combine.

Make a well in the center, pour the butter, egg yolks, and milk, and mix until thoroughly combined. Beat the egg whites in a clean bowl until stiff, then fold delicately into the cheese mixture.  Spoon everything in the prepared pan, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown and the surface feels firm to the touch.  Serve warm or cold, cut in wedges.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  One word about the New York Times book:  awesome!  I have no idea how anyone could gather the energy and commitment to create such a masterpiece, but I’m sure glad that Amanda Hesser did it.   I haven’t yet finished  browsing its 932 pages, but I already have a long list of things to make.

Hesser suggests serving this cake in small wedges for cocktail parties with a glass of red wine, or with soup or salad for a light meal.   A hot bowl of tomato bisque (with a touch of basil, of course) is another great match. My only problem with the recipe was the name:  ‘parmesan’ suggests the use of cheap versions of this excellent cheese, with which I strongly disagree.  Instead, buy the best parmiggiano reggiano available, because that’s a taste that you’ll remember.

ONE YEAR AGO: Antibiotics and Food (something I’m very concerned about)

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SATURDAY MORNING SCONES

Scones and bran muffins have something in common: they often make a bad first impression.  Indeed, my first scone experience was over 10 years ago, and I’ve avoided them ever since.  I had no intention of ever baking a batch, but a series of events made me reconsider.  First, I saw this post at Lisa’s blog, which peaked my interest.  Then, a few days later some friends raved about banana scones from the latest Fine Cooking.  Any hope of removing scones from my mind were shattered when I asked Phil what I should make for our Saturday post-run breakfast?   “How about some blueberry scones?” …was his response. The path of least resistance was beckoning, and I veered that way.

LEMON-GLAZED BANANA-BERRY SCONES
(adapted from Fine Cooking)

9 oz. (2 cups) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2-1/4 tsp. aluminum-free  baking powder
zest of 1 Meyer lemon
3/8 tsp. table salt
5-1/2 Tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 small ripe  banana, cut into 1/4-inch dice (1/2 cup)
1/2 to 3/4  cup dried blueberries and cranberries
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. heavy cream; more for brushing
For the glaze
3 oz. (3/4 cup) confectioners’ sugar
1-1/2 Tbs. fresh Meyer lemon juice
1 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened
pinch of salt

Heat the oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt. Rub the pieces of butter into the flour mixture using your fingers until a few pea-size lumps remain. Stir in the banana and the dried fruits. Add the cream and stir the mixture with a fork until it comes together.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat gently into a 7-inch circle about 1 inch high. Cut the dough into 8 wedges. Transfer to a baking sheet lines with parchment paper, allowing 1 inch of space between the scones.  Brush the tops with heavy cream and bake until the tops are golden and they feel firm to the touch – 20 to 25 minutes.  Cool slightly on a wire rack before glazing.

To make the glaze, mix the confectioner’s sugar, lemon juice, butter, and salt, stirring until completely smooth.  Drizzle the warm scones and serve them warm or at room temperature.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: The original recipe called for bananas and crystallized ginger. I’m   insecure about changing baking recipes, especially the first time making them.  However, being married to an incorrigible optimist helps a lot. ” Just skip the ginger and add the blueberries, it will be fine.” As I was preparing the ingredients he dug out a bag of dried cranberries and handed it to me: “…here, add these babies too, they’ll be some awesome scones”!

Well, he was right.  The scones were delicious!  Moist, flavorful, with a delicate banana flavor that although not pronounced,  was definitely noticeable.  The lemon glaze pumped them up another notch, so don’t skip it [yet another delicious use for those Meyer lemons.  ;-)]

ONE YEAR AGO: Pain de mie au levain

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